Who to Reach Out to on Campus - A Guide to the Resources your University's Faculty

Inside the Admissions Office

Who to Reach Out to on Campus - A Guide to the Resources your University's Faculty

This article was originally written by Chason Dailey, a former Admissions Officer at the University of Chicago and writer for ChaseFuture.


Universities are more than classrooms, libraries, and dormitories. They are remarkably complex communities catering to the many needs of students. While this means assistance is always close at hand, it also means having to find the correct person or office to address your concern. This is difficult enough for domestic students. For international students unfamiliar with American university structure, or from academic environments where having questions or discussing problems is frowned upon, even small problems become very stressful.

For example, a student was unsure about how to drop a course. She emailed her question to me, her TA, her professor, the program director, and two registrars, all through separate emails sent within minutes of each other. When I inquired about her tactic, she explained that her undergraduate university was terribly unresponsive, and the only way to get an answer to a question was to prod whoever you could repeatedly. This was in stark contrast to others who remained silent about their academic issues. One such student did poorly on his midterm and was so concerned that his low grade would jeopardize his place in the program and inconvenience his professor and me that he stayed silent until days before his final exam.

As an international student, you should never, ever be afraid to ask for help. You should also be familiar with the people and resources on campus you can turn to when you are in need. Use this primer as a guide. While different universities may use different office names or titles, the spirit of these resources is the same:

Academic Advisor

You will be assigned an academic advisor and meet him or her shortly after matriculating. Your advisor will help you add and drop courses and counsel you on how to satisfy core and major requirements for graduation. Most students meet with their academic advisor at least once per term to ensure they are on the right track. Academic advisors may also help students with fellowships and other academic opportunities. They should be contacted promptly if you are having academic problems.

Office of International Affairs

No matter its name, the office of international affairs helps you navigate being a student in America. This includes visa status and necessities, work authorization and related needs, and helping spouses and dependents that may come with you to the United States. Such offices also connect international students on campus with socials and other events catering to their needs and interests. My experience has been that international affairs contacts usually cover a division or school. This organization may vary.

Professor

Many first-time students in the US are surprised at the casual relationship professors and students may have and the accessibility of professors for students. Take advantage of this, even if you do not have a pressing need or concern. Attend professor’s office hours to discuss readings, receive feedback on work, and ask questions. This will help you engage with material and build a relationship with the professor.

Teaching Assistant

Professors may be supported by one or more teaching assistants in the classroom. TAs may run discussions or labs, office hours, and provide general resources to students inside and outside the classroom. They should be your first point-of-contact for matters related to the class they support, from questions about material to more serious concerns about grades.

Registrar

Registrars are the stewards of data and information. As such, they maintain or oversee student systems related to registration, academic records, exams, graduation, and the like. They work very closely with the dean of students, bursar, and other administrative units on campus. It is a great office to contact if you have a question about or need permission to do something or access to information. While students may be given a primary contact within the office, the opposite is also common. Students engage with various members of the staff, in these instances, as they are available.

Dean of Students

The Dean of Students is a high-level administrator who oversees all student services for a school or academic unit. The term is used both for the individual dean and his or her office of support staff. This office often oversees things related to campus and student life, including academic and career advice offices. The Dean of Students office is the best place to go for any and every issue.

Department Coordinator

Department coordinators are administrators who provide support services to faculty and students of a specific academic department. You will likely begin encountering a department coordinator when you choose a major or concentration. They often provide news and information on events provided to students by departments, may liaise between students and faculty, and help with the collection and distribution of exams, papers, and the like.

Bursar

The Office of the Bursar handles student financial matters, particularly related to tuition. They prepare bills, collect payments, and provide related services. The Bursar does not usually work directly with financial aid, though responsibilities may vary by institution. For anything billing or payment, the Bursar is a good place to start.

Financial Aid

Aid and loans offices oversee funds that may be available to help students offset the costs of their education. This funding may be provided by the university, the government, or other sources. Funding can be a very complicated thing, especially for international students. These offices will help navigate aid processes. While students may be given a primary contact within the office, the opposite is also common.

Career Office

It is never too early to begin considering life after your degree. Career resources may be tied to specific programs (especially true for graduate students), or a general campus office. They help students craft resumes and cover letters, practice interview skills, and look for jobs and internships. Since the majority of U.S. college graduates hold a job unrelated to their major, career advisors provide essential services for exploring your options.

Class Librarian

If it is not already a requisite part of your orientation, request a tour of your university’s library system. In addition to a full rundown of the resources the library has to offer, you will learn about the class or subject librarians assigned to your program or major of study. The amount of knowledge these librarians have is incredible and extends far beyond what books are available. Take advantage of their knowledge, especially if you have trouble with a research project.

Disability Services

Student disability services provide support and resources to help reduce unnecessary barriers to learning for students in need. Any student who is in need of disability accommodation should communicate this as soon as possible after arriving on campus. While “disability services” is often its own office, it is appropriate to bring up this need with the dean of students. While students may be given a primary contact within the office, the opposite is also common.

Health Services

Universities provide services on campus that address the mental and physical health of its students. This is true even for schools that are not attached to hospitals. These services can vary: from basic medical needs to counseling to wellness seminars teaching students good habits. Some services allow students to remain anonymous, reinforcing confidentiality and a feeling of safety for students with various health-related needs. While students may be given a primary contact within the office, the opposite is also common.

IT Services

IT Services provides and supports electronic resources and access on campus. This may include primary login credentials for university services, email, VPN clients, wireless, dorm phones, software, and many other things. IT Services may also provide discounted hardware and software to current students. Rather than having a primary contact, issues are usually handled by the first available tech.

Residence Staff

Undergraduate students living in dormitories are supported by residential staff. This may include any number of positions. At the University of Chicago, for example, dormitory buildings are subdivided into houses. Each house has a Resident Assistant (RA), who is an upstanding advanced undergraduate student, and a Residence Head (RH), a single graduate student or graduate couple (and their family). All but one dorm also had a Residence Master (RM), who oversaw all the houses in the building. They contribute to the social nature of the dorm with study breaks, free food, and events both on and off campus. They ease students into dormitory life and are fonts of knowledge about the university.

Student Ombudsperson

A student ombudsperson is an impartial student advocate. Unlike other offices or people on this list, they typically work outside a university’s administrative structure. As such, they are able to provide objective advice and support on dealing with issues between students and faculty, staff, and administration. The ombudsperson is a great first point-of-contact if you are not sure with whom to address your issue, but they are even more helpful if you have an issue with someone on this list.


Last, and certainly not least, your classmates are a resource. Your once and future friends, study group partners, confidants, and partners in crime are in these rooms with you. Much like you, they are going to be friendly, brilliant, exhausted people who want to be your friend and see you succeed. Reach out to them. Attending a university means classroom learning, but it also means learning and engaging with a community of learners. Know and understand what resources are available to you to help take fullest advantage of that community. Then do it!